'Absent' Offers Confusion, Colorblindness & Life-Giving Saltines
I have to admit that I was eagerly anticipating the first episode of “Absent.”
This new, angsty, Harvard-centric sci-fi web series came in the wake of the popular and well-received premiere of “IVY,” the first show to capture the intricacies of the Ivy League experience on film. With all the surrounding hype, “Absent” promised to be just as good as its predecessor—if not better.
Well, it didn’t quite live up to the hype.
At first, I was actively trying to make sense out of what was going on. But then nineteen minutes and fifty-two seconds passed, and no such luck.
The episode begins with a crescendo and a minimalist title scene. Cut to the opening scene, set in a dorm room. Athletic blockmates rattle off expletive-filled lines, brag loudly about their party-going antics, and trade pset answers for scotch. A dark-haired boy (Skip Ros ’17) broods silently in a corner before disappearing. Cut to the next scene. Two friends complain about their problem sets over sandwiches and Doritos. Next scene. A guy in black-rimmed glasses rambles to an unresponsive girl studying in the library.
Scene by scene the episode goes on, with some of these characters seemingly becoming invisible, running away, fighting over the alien-like diamond substance, eating magical life-giving saltine crackers, and looking as confused as the viewer undoubtedly feels. The scenes switch so rapidly and illogically that it is difficult to find any thread of commonality among them. If there is any semblance of plot, it’s obfuscated by layers of pretension and contrived dialogue.
Another major problem? There are too many characters to keep track of, making it impossible to become invested in any of them. Characters yell at one another for no apparent reason, treat one another with inexplicable hostility, or create drama out of nothing. Viewers are given no backstory to explain these behaviors, no context, nothing to engage with but scene after relentless scene of trivial interactions between interchangeable figures.
Some vague element of supernatural design also serves to further complicate matters. The underlying assumption is that certain people become invisible, for reasons that are never explained… not even to themselves. These invisible people can apparently no longer interact with the world. Their survival might depend upon eating saltine crackers.
To add to the confusion, the entire episode is inexplicably shot in black and white. What were the producers aiming for, metaphorical colorblindness? Actual colorblindness? The world may never know.
All in all, this is a webisode created with the underlying assumption that the audience can read minds and consisting entirely of jigsaw pieces that the viewer must piece together one by one to form a bleak picture of triumphant confusion.
The most genuine instance of relatability comes when a bewildered actor bursts into a room, demanding an explanation. “I need to know what’s going on!” he shouts in desperation.
So do we, man. So do we.